Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth by Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, and Stjepan Šejić

Cover of Rat Queens Volume Two, featuring four women of a variety of races and body types. They brandish weapons magical and mundane as a large, purple tentacle surrounds them.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

You recall my love for SASS AND SORCERY, yes? The premiere volume of RAT QUEENS, which you’ve all read because you make good life choices?

If you don’t make good life choices (or if you haven’t gotten around to reading the comic yet, which is perfectly understandable), I’ll remind you the series quickly proved itself to be the fantasy comic I never knew I wanted: firmly rooted in the sort of RPG-inspired material I devoured when I was twelve, but with a more inclusive slant on it all.

RAT QUEENS features a variety of women in nonstereotypical positions of authority. It has non-white people. It has queer people. Everyone swears a lot. It’s like they made it just for me.

Volume two, THE FAR-REACHING TENTACLES OF N’RYGOTH, expands on the first volume’s brand of juicy goodness even as it takes a small step back from the wider story. There’s plenty of exciting, life-threatening stuff going on, but the very nature of the excitement forces characters and reader alike to pause for a moment. Who are the Rat Queens, really? What were their lives like before they banded together and formed a profitable adventuring company? What secrets do they harbour?

The answers are deeply affecting. I was thrilled with this chance to delve into the Queens’ backstories in a bit more detail. We learn a little more about the circumstances that drove Dee to leave her religious community and venture out into the world. We get to see some of what Violet’s home life was like, and I’m not crying over her relationship with her mother, that’s totally you. Hannah’s parentage comes out into the open, and it packs quite the hefty punch with its visual reveal, which answers a question I never quite thought to ask.

The only character who still appears to be relatively straightforward is Betty. We know she likes drugs and candy and cute girls, with a side of violence. One hopes we’ll learn a little more about her in the next arc. Surely her backstory is as interesting--and as varied--as everyone else’s.

Sidebar: how terrible is that I’ve got to specifically highlight the variety? That we have to talk about how these women are unique, fully realized individuals instead of just taking it for granted?

Sword and sorcery has a terrible reputation for painting all women as Bikini Princesses who occasionally double as Half-Crazed High Priestesses. The reputation isn’t unearned, but it’s also outdated. Gender-diverse sword and sorcery exists, but it gets buried beneath the wider perception of the genre, leaving us with the need to talk about RAT QUEENS’s varied characters as if they’re ground breaking, when really they should simply be the norm.

At least this comic is doing good work on that front. Diverse, fully-realized female characters aren’t considered the default today, but stories like RAT QUEENS help ensure they’ll become the default within the next couple of decades.

Moving back to the matter at hand…

This new focus on the characters does slow the plot down a bit, but I’m okay with that. Volume One gave us tons of action; Volume Two gives us a goodly amount of action paired with some important world- and character-enhancing quieter moments. It pushes everyone forward and asks us to consider who the Rat Queens are to themselves and to each other. Even though they’re a fairly tight knit group of friends, it’s clear they’ve kept many things about themselves private in favour of forging something new within the group. I hope we’ll see them begin to integrate their old lives with their current path in future volumes.

And hey, if a new openness between them happens to expand their friendships in all sorts of fascinating ways, you won’t hear me complaining. Give me more platonic fictional friendships, please. Give me heaps more.

You most definitely want to read this, but I recommend you start with SASS AND SORCERY instead of leaping in here. THE FAR-REACHING TENTACLES OF N’RYGOTH probably covers enough new ground that you could catch up if you really wanted to, but it’s a direct sequel that’ll have more of an impact if you’re already familiar with the characters.

Links

While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF N’RYGOTH, you can try:

I receive a small portion of the purchase price if you buy the book through Amazon or The Book Depository.

4 comments:

  1. Didn't realize this was out yet! Goody!

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    1. It came out in... I want to say mid-May? I'm a bit behind.

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  2. Love love love. I have a subscription because I just can't wait for collections.

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    1. I wish I had the budget for subscriptions. As it is, I'm grateful Image has given me review copies of some of their trade collections.

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